I'll admit, I went into Spanglish not wanting to like it. I was one of three people who didn't like As Good As It Gets but my loathing was deep and pure enough for three million. My particular creative bugaboo has always been Wasted Potential, and believe you me, if you'd read Mark Andrus's brilliant, dark, tender, touching original screenplay for AGAIG, you'd be pissed off, too. I'm a lot older and a little bit wiser and I don't fall into deep, hopeless chasms of righteous indignation like I used to. Spanglish was...well, good. In a way. There are some charming scenes and some terrific laughs and some enchanting performances, Cloris Leachman is her usual crackerjack actor self, Adam Sandler has a few great moments and Paz Vega should be in every movie made until she dies.
Sadly, Spanglish was also very, very bad, in exactly the same way that AGAIG was. I'm beginning to think that the chief trick to good art is, as Albert Einstein said about, well, everything, to "make everything as simple as possible...but no simpler." Which is why it's as easy to go from rococco to kitsch as it is to go from Mies Van Der Roh to some tacky steel and glass box.
There's a real story about real people somewhere in Spanglish that I'd have liked to see. As the daughter of a charming, well-meaning, intelligent but often thoughtless drunk much like the one Leachman portrays, I know all about the damage mothers can inflict upon their children, and, by extension, their children's loved ones. But I don't know too many saints of the variety played by Sandler and Vega, who are given exactly one (delightful) flaw each, while poor TÃ©a Leoni gets to play a skinny blonde antichrist. (Oh, and that whole thing about Leachman's character just giving up drinking after 60 years , and without anyone noticing for three weeks: Not. Gonna. Happen.)
To be fair to Brooks, had he cast a more inherently likeable actress (say, RenÃ©e Zellweger) as the unhappy Deborah Clasky, the character might have been a scoche more sympathetic. But it was his part to cast, he wrote and directed, and I'm guessing none of the producers had final creative control over casting, and he clearly opted for the shrillest of brittle harpies he could find. Maybe it's that i-dotting and t-crossing that's born of TV writing; after years of cramming problem, complication and resolution, plus a laugh every :30, into 22 minutes of sitcom, it's probably hard to recalibrate yourself to the delicate rhythms of (good) filmmaking.
But until he does, I'm afraid the James L. Brooks films I do see I'll see the way I saw Spanglish: free. Or on video.
After all, maybe they'll look better on the small screen.